Do It Yourself

If you are a performer, author, or athlete, immigrating to Canada may be easier than you expect.

One of the underused application categories for immigration to Canada is the self-employed category. As part of the broader economic class, the general policy intent for granting permanent residence on this basis is to develop and support a prosperous Canadian economy.

In the self employed category, Canada seeks to attract individuals who have the “intention and ability” to create their own employment and to make a significant contribution to the cultural, artistic or athletic life of Canada. (The category is also open to those who undertake to purchase and manage a Canadian farm but the number of applicants in this area is small).

The benefit of applying in this immigration category is that the “point grid” which is used in other sub-categories of the economic class is relaxed – only 35 points are required, and fluency in English combined with a couple of years of self employment goes a long way to meeting this target.

The interesting aspect of this category is the scope of occupations identified as making a significant contribution to artistic and cultural life in Canada. There are 33 occupational categories, covering occupations as diverse as editors and journalists, photographers and graphic designers, and film makers.

As Canadians, we can be proud of this category because it demonstrates Canada’s commitment to artistic and cultural life. As newcomers to Canada, it puts out a welcome mat as well as a pat on the back for an established history of navigating the unpredictable waters of self employment.

It is interesting to note that the recent sweeping changes affecting almost every other category of immigration to Canada have skipped over the self-employed category. Surely this is an indication that in executing a plan to attract artists and athletes to Canada, the self-employed category has got it right.

Love exiles

A recent article in the New York Times drew attention to the fact that communities of gay American immigration exiles have formed in countries like Canada, Australia and Spain. This is due to the fact that the same sex spouses and partners of U.S. citizens cannot be sponsored for immigration status because their same sex relationships are not recognized by the U.S. federal government:

It may seem odd to Canadians that same sex couples can legally marry in some U.S. states but that relationship is meaningless to the U.S. federal government, which sets the rules for immigration and other benefits. The major obstacle to federal recognition of same sex relationships is the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same sex relationships in any form.

There are two bases for hope for these couples, faced with discriminatory separation or living together with no status for one party in the relationship. First, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA this March, which may lead to DOMA’s eradication. Second, President Obama has promised to allow same sex binational couples to apply for sponsorship according to his immigration blueprint (which may be a faint hope given that this initiative is strongly opposed by Republicans).

It is anyone’s guess how this issue will play out. Until then, Canada, which has recognized immigration rights for binational same sex couples in some respects since the 1990′s, will be a welcoming recipient for these love exiles.

Start Me Up

With the introduction of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Start Up Visa this April, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney hopes to send the world the message that Canada is open for business.

“When this thing gets launched, I plan to go down to Silicon Valley with some of the industry associations here and fly the Canadian flag and say to those bright young prospective immigrants…that they can come to Canada through this program and they can get permanent residency here, and have the certainty that this represents and start their businesses in Canada.”

The Start Up Visa is meant to replace the Entrepreneur program which was first implemented in Canada in 1983 and suspended last year. Both initiatives share a goal of attracting entrepreneurs who will start companies in Canada, employing Canadians and contributing to the economy. While the government has not announced the complete details of the program, the main features of the Start Up Visa are:

- immediate and unconditional Canadian permanent residence for applicants, compared to the entrepreneur program which was conditional,

- the assessment and support of applicants by private sector organizations such as designated incubator programs or angel networks.

Both of these aspects of the Start Up Visa program seem like a significant improvement over the entrepreneur program. The imposition of conditions on entrepreneurs led to resource intensive monitoring and difficulties with enforcement. The evaluation of entrepreneurs by private sectors organizations who are experts in assessing the eligibility of applicants for the program. Previously, assessments of entrepreneurs were made by visa officers, who were out of their realm of expertise. The support of private sector organizations will assist new entrepreneurs to adapt to the Canadian business environment.

It makes sense, too, to launch the program as a pilot project, which the government has done, in order to assess its effectiveness over a five year period.  Only 2 750 applications will be accepted each year.

The suspension of the investor, entrepreneur and eventually the skilled worker program led many economic immigrants to wonder whether Canada was truly interested in using immigration to contribute to and stimulate the Canadian economy. With this year’s re-launch of two of those three programs, 2013 may be the year we see mutual gain for Canada and new immigrants.